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Stroppy bees

Herb farm bees with a bit of an attitude.

Herb farm bees with a bit of an attitude.

The herb farm is proving a very productive apiary, but the bees are very agitated and we think there is something in the environment that is causing their unruly behaviour rather than being the result of genetics.

You may remember that we shook-swarmed an existing colony in a WBC into a Langstroth hive. Despite the cool spring, the colony grew satisfactorily with some candy as food. At first they were very even tempered, but with size have become more defensive even though they have not quite filled their new brood chamber yet.

I transferred a colony known to be quite docile in its original apiary and it has thrived (now with four supers), but its temper has been unpleasant both at the hiveside and as ‘followers’.

Recently a swarm from an unknown source has been installed in the apiary and already that small colony is being rather unpleasant to visitors.

So, with three colonies with queens from three different genetic lines, I am beginning to think there must be something in the environment that is upsetting them. And I can’t work out what it is.

They all seem very healthy, so I don’t suspect disease which can upset bees’ temperament.

The hives face due south (the prevailing wind is south west), the area is well-drained (with a little stream in a damp little valley behind).

Straight in front of the hives is a field of angelica not yet in bloom, but I can find no reports of bees being irritated by angelica – in fact they should love it when it flowers.

There are no overhead power cables near, but we’re investigating to find if there is anything underground.

There are no signs of disturbance by animals (the long grass around the hives should show animal trails if they are frequent visitors).

We plan to move one hive soon to see if it becomes more friendly in a new environment, but for the moment the bees’ behaviour is unexplained.

Anyone with ideas of what to look for in the environment?

Turlough
Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

  • Carol Lavender

    We have a hive (one of two) in our garden which used to be docile but has been really crabby for several months. We can’t work out what is wrong as they have plenty of forage, space, good queen etc. They keep stinging my husband who is becoming more intolerant to the stings. They also sting the neighbours and often visitors. It is becoming unpleasant. We invited an ex bee inspector to come and look at them but he was unable to provide a possible reason either. We are now considering moving them out of the garden but that’s not easy. Very disappointing as it is no longer fun.

  • sarah smithers

    Besides what you mentioned, I find them getting crabby in a dearth. How is the nectar collecting?
    I’d do an actual check for nosema spores in the gut, too, not just a visual inspection.
    And I’d wonder about water source, if there is one and is it clean.
    A newbee I was visiting had a crabby hive and we found an ant nest under his stone blocks..I am hoping that will help their attitude since we dug up their best.

    There usually is a reason for crabbiness, though it’s hard to figure out the cause.

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